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maigret en meublé

20 september 2020

Maigret's "method," which he keeps denying he has, is to put himself into the community that surrounds the scene of a crime and soak in its ambiance till the contours of the misdeed become clear. When the young inspector Janvier is wounded in a street shooting, and Mme. Maigret is out of town, what better opportunity for Maigret to test his method by actually moving into the lodging-house that Janvier was staking out when he was attacked?

Once installed, Maigret en meublé, Maigret in a furnished room, proceeds "deviner les pulsations de la maison" (53): to take the pulse of the house. He sets himself up as all-seeing eye, and starts drinking heavily. (Or rather, continues drinking heavily.) The architecture of this rooming house is uncannily convenient for general eavesdropping. Maigret can apparently see much of what goes on in his own building, and hear the rest. He gets to know the neighbors intimately in just a matter of hours:

Il était entré dans leur chambre, avait vu leur lit, leur brosse à dents sur la toilette et le petit réchaud à alcool ou à essence sur lequel ils préparaient la plupart de leurs repas. (100)

[He'd gone into their rooms, seen their beds, the toothbrushes on their nightstands, and the little alcohol or gas stoves where they cooked most of their meals.]

Maigret is even better-placed to watch into the building across the street. Should I spoil the plot? I guess so, given that the novel appeared nearly 70 years ago and you can stop reading this review any time. You may already have done so. Come to find that the stakeout – an attempt to nab an incompetent robber named Paulus – has nothing to do with Janvier's near-demise. It's all about the building en face. Early in his stay, Maigret watched a tenant leave the flat directly across from his furnished room. Something about the place and the woman who lives there, an invalid with odd habits of leaving her blinds up or down, makes him think the situation isn't the full 50-centime piece.

By going into her room, seeing her bed and toothbrush, and bluffing, Maigret learns that she has been harboring a fugitive, a long-wanted murderer who slips in to cohabit with her while her seafaring husband is away on his ship. That fugitive, not the idiot robber, had the motivation and the nerve to attack Janvier.

There are no suspenseful chases in Maigret en meublé. Both Paulus and the murderer surrender to Maigret without hesitation, relieved to be handing themselves over to someone who will listen to them with patience. Of the two, Maigret much prefers the timeworn murderer, who defends his lover and seems chastened by the idiocies of his youth. Maigret blames Paulus more than he blames the man who pulled the trigger: the kid acted out of fecklessness, the older man from a sense that his entire existence, and that of the woman he loves, were on the line.

Simenon, Georges. Maigret en meublé. 1951. Paris: Presses de la Cité, 1990.